“Mike and Doug,” 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago.
Back in the day, as a young social photographer, Paul D’Amato went out into Chicago’s black and Hispanic neighborhoods with the wish of so many of the young middle-class white males of his generation: to connect with the homies or, as sociologists say, to get a shot of “prestige from below”—mean, tragic and vitalizing street style.
Now middle aged, D’Amato has continued to hang around the ‘hood, but he has shifted his approach to the more restrained and sedate project of shooting color portraits of its residents. D’Amato’s images place his subjects in their own environments, but they are decidedly formal and still, as though the subjects were in the studio.
D’Amato never became a homie; he stayed, but he retreated to the role of the photographer who comes to the scene with the practices from whence he came. That perhaps harsh judgment can be readily confirmed by examining the representation of D’Amato’s subjects. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Louis Thompson, “Shepherding,” 1965
In 1971, Samuel and Blanche Koffler, originally from New York, began a charitable foundation to collect contemporary Chicago art. A board of five administrators—including a painter, a sculptor, an art historian, a critic and museum director—selected the acquisitions, many of which were donated to the Smithsonian Museum about ten years later. Last fall, ninety-five additional artworks were donated to the recently built DePaul Art Museum, fifteen of which have now been selected for temporary display.
Much of this collection was built by experts, Read the rest of this entry »
Right up front about using photography to express her ever-incomplete journey of self-discovery, Jodi Swanson (Alempijevic) does not specialize, deploying whatever technique and genre depicts the mood that she wants to represent to herself and communicate to viewers. Whether she is shooting in black-and-white or color; going straight or venturing into digital manipulation; posing models in formal studies or turning the camera on herself; or capturing slices of life on the streets, meditating on natural forms, or flirting with surrealism, Swanson is always intensely passionate—she is addicted to feeling and she is a consummate pusher who knows how to break through our emotional resistance. Read the rest of this entry »
Gina Osterloh, “Collapse,” 2006. Light jet print.
The most recent and arguably the most diverse group to emerge on the crowded scene of contemporary identity politics is the “mixed-race Asian American,” which receives a rich visual reflection here by seven photographers who in portraits and staged scenarios concentrate on the confusions involved in determining with which larger group they should identify, or whether they should form a distinctive blended group all their own. Some of the artists, indeed, would not even consider themselves to be Asian, but European or Mexican, for example, and others are in flux. No wonder, then, that a persistent theme in the show is the condition of feeling that one is “hidden.” Read the rest of this entry »
In an expertly and elegantly curated exhibition that serves as a model for the presentation of wildlife photography, Chicago shooter Jerry Goldner introduces us to nine widely different species of owls—most of which he caught in our sweet home of Illinois—in close-up color images that provide us with an intimacy with the fable creatures that we would never get otherwise. Using a 600mm lens and an extender, Goldner, an environmental activist, never gets close enough to his prey to let them know that they are under surveillance, which is why his subjects show us who they are on their own. Read the rest of this entry »
Chris Jordan, from “Midway Message from the Gyre,” 2009–2010
A gamut of environmentalist photography cataloging the depredations that our species has wrought on planet Earth is on display here, ranging from Terry Evans’ series that make destruction look seductively appealing (usually not the shooter ’s intent), through images that aestheticize spoliation with a disturbing undercurrent, to outright assaults on the eye that leave us in no doubt that we are witnessing something awful. Of the seven practiced artists here, working predominantly in color and in different corners of the world, only Chris Jordan dares to lacerate our sensibilities to the max, with his series, from the Pacific Midway Atoll, depicting dead albatrosses, their guts open revealing a mess of plastic garbage that they have snarfed up in their quest for a meal. Read the rest of this entry »
Takumi Itow, “Drumming for a Good Harvest,” 1990, woodblock print
The shared rhythms of seasonal festivals, called “matsuri” in Japan, do not especially reflect the dynamic, fast-changing, capital-driven modern world. Some matsuri are still practiced simply because they make people feel good—does anyone still believe they are necessary to keep the community together as well as the rivers flowing, crops growing and sun rising? To outsiders, they may seem quaint and folksy, which is just how contemporary woodblock printer Itow Takumi depicts them. His work would serve quite well to promote tourist trips to rural Japan, just as many Chicago artists once specialized in travel posters for the railroads that served the American West. However, these woodblock prints do much more than attract consumer attention, and Itow’s motives for making art can hardly be attributed to mere commercialism. President of the Japanese Print Society, he teaches at Waseda University in Tokyo, and is more like a master craftsman than a gallery artist. Like a well-made tea bowl, his pieces don’t flaunt their tight design or push any of the boundaries of contemporary art, but enough is there to inspire view after view after view—leaving the spectator with a glow of contentment.
Read the rest of this entry »
Recently, the landlocked West-African country of Mali has been wracked by a military coup and ethnic unrest, but, in the 1960s, Mali was experiencing a burst of energy and optimism that attended its liberation from French colonialism. Enter Malick Sidibe, who set up his storefront photography studio in the capital, Bamako, and proceeded to shoot the exuberant nightlife of the times and take portraits of its devotees—young people who embraced global popular culture and melded it with traditional chic. Read the rest of this entry »
The polymath of Pop Art, Andy Warhol was big time into photography, along with everything else, pursuing it with his inveterate indefatigability through the late 1960s and early 1970s. Deploying a selection from a cache of images given to the DePaul Art Museum by the Warhol Foundation, curator Greg Harris shows us the artist-impresario’s studies of objects that he planned to paint, a sampling of thousands of snapshots intended to document his everyday life, and color Polaroid portraits. Unlike Malick Sidibe, across the seas in Mali, who turned his ordinary subjects into “stars,” Warhol was a celebrity shooting the social lions and lionesses who flocked to sit for him with a bit less of a glamorous sheen. Read the rest of this entry »
Japanese prints are not especially intended to be framed and hung on walls (although they can look quite nice there). They have been made to be collected and shared, on special occasions, with fellow collectors, like kids do with baseball cards—and no kid has ever been more enthusiastic about his collection than Elias Martin is about his Sosaku Hanga prints, from the early twentieth-century art movement of self-carved, self-printed, wood-block prints. A single class in Japanese art history at DePaul University lured him away from postgraduate studies in continental philosophy and got him hooked as a collector. Now, he works for the dealer for whom he was once a customer, but still remains mostly a wide-eyed enthusiast, as is apparent in the occasional seminars that he conducts in the elegant library above the Floating World Gallery in Lincoln Park. There is no sales pitch because none of the prints are for sale. They all come from private collections, including his own, and with an intensity bordering the fanatical, he paces around the room, holding each print up to the eyes of everyone in attendance. Read the rest of this entry »